Lee and Leslie Strobel today
(…continued) Stephen: That’s an intellectual moment. Was there a spiritual moment?
Lee: There was, yes, but it came after that. It’s funny because after almost two years of investigating this, once I came to that intellectual conclusion that it was true, I felt very let down. It was very anti-climactic. It was like, okay, I invested two years of my life in this and now I’ve got a conclusion? So what?
But then I read John 1:12 that says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
I realized that verse forms an equation of what it means to become a child of God– believe plus receive equals become. I realized that just being in intellectual agreement with the evidence and the facts of history is not sufficient. I had to receive this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus had purchased for me on the cross when he died as my substitute to pay for all of my sins. And when I would receive this free gift of his grace, then I would become a child of God.
That’s when I got on my knees and poured out a confession of a lifetime of immorality that would curl your hair. That’s when I reached out in repentance and faith, received this free gift of eternal life and forgiveness through Christ, and became a child of God.
Stephen: When you get up from a prayer like that, so much has changed, and yet in some respects so little has changed. Your room is still around you, the evidence of your life which you’ve now admitted is broken, is still around you, and you’ve got to go and confess to Leslie. What was that like?
Lee: The first thought that went through my head was, “I’ve got to tell Leslie about this.” When I told her, she burst into tears and threw her arms around my neck and said, “I almost gave up on you a thousand times.” And she said, “When I was a new Christian, I met some women at a church. I told them about you and said, ‘I don’t have any hope for my husband. He’s the hard-headed, hard-hearted, legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. He will never bend his knee to Jesus.’”
But this woman named Sylvia put her arm around Leslie and pulled her to the side and said, “Leslie, no one is beyond hope.” And she gave her a verse from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 36:26: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
That whole two years that I was on this investigative journey, Leslie was behind the scenes, every day praying that verse for me. And starting on that Sunday afternoon, now that I’d been adopted as a child of God, God began to answer that prayer. I was baptized and as I became part of a vibrant church, I learned to read the Bible with fresh eyes, I learned to worship, and I learned to pray. My values began to change, and so did my character, my morality, my attitudes, my philosophy, my priorities, my relationships, and my marriage. All these things (over time) began to change for the good, as God answered that prayer that Leslie had prayed so faithfully.
Stephen: And other relationships in your family were restored?
Lee: They were. I wish that my relationship with my father had been restored before he died, but this happened after he died, and we never fully reconciled the rift in our relationship. But my family, which had suffered as a result of my hedonistic and narcissistic and drunken lifestyle, began to feel the impact. My daughter was five years old then, and she’d only known a dad who was absent and angry and kicking holes in the wall out of anger and frustration, and coming home drunk. She watched as God changed her dad in front of her eyes. She watched and listened for about four or five months, and then she came up to Leslie one day and said, “I want God to do for me what he’s done for daddy.” And the same thing with my son. He saw the difference God was making in his mom, in his dad, in his sister. He came to faith at a young age too. So, God healed our family.
Stephen: As a journalist, you were a senior reporter in your city, well known, with lots of power and access to people. You were on top of your game and on top of the world. Didn’t accepting the truth of Christ essentially meant giving up on all of those things.
Lee: I had hoped that God would have kept me in journalism because I think it’s important to have Christian voices in newsrooms. But He called me out of that. I took a 60% pay cut, went to work at a church, lived in a tiny little house for 20 years, raised our kids, and we didn’t have much. But we had God, we had faith, and we wouldn’t trade that for anything. It’s been the greatest adventure of our lives– to be able to tell people about Jesus, to see other lives changed, and to write books and articles about faith and see how God ignites faith in people’s lives. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Stephen: What gives you hope?
Lee: In the Bible, hope is specifically anchored to the resurrection. I think that’s important in a couple of ways. First of all, we can have hope because we know from the evidence that the resurrection occurred. Then second, that gives us confidence that we will someday spend eternity with God as well. God has opened up heaven to all those, who follow him in repentance and faith. That gives me hope.
I almost died five years ago. I was on my deathbed and there was great uncertainty whether I would live, and if I survived, whether I would have been mentally disabled. God rescued me from that, thankfully, but it gave me a renewed perspective of what’s important and what’s not important. It helped me realize that the only hope in moments like that is the truth of the gospel and the truth of the resurrection. In those moments, my success as an author or as a journalist was totally irrelevant. All that was relevant is that Jesus is real, that I’m his adopted son, and that if I close my eyes in this world for the last time, I’m going to open them in eternity with him. That’s all that matters, and that’s all the hope I, or any of us, ultimately need.
Leslie describes her very different path to faith:
“I wasn’t interested in all those experts like Lee was. My faith was based on how I received Christ, how I just knew that Christ was in my life, and how He was moving and answering my prayers in so many ways. It’s so funny for me to hear Lee talk about all those facts he found on his journey, because my journey was so much more simple. I was feeling empty and hurting because Lee was never home. Lee was busy in his career, and I would cry out to God and I’d feel His presence. Or I’d open the Bible and He would speak to me in what I was reading. For me, it was relational. It was never a question of needing any kind of hard facts or proof. For me, faith was proved by God’s presence in my life.”
Luke 1:1-4 — Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Acts 16:29-31 — The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief. –Mark 9:24b